The Black Students’ Network (BSN) believes that McGill’s Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism is a good start to addressing systemic and anti-Black racism, but that the group will continue to work with members of McGill’s Black communities and the administration to ensure its effective implementation. On Sept. 30, McGill released its 44-page Action Plan which was developed by Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Christopher Manfredi and Associate Provost (Equity and Academic Policies) Angela Campbell. The plan outlines McGill’s five-year course of action to confront anti-Black racism at the university, with a focus on student experience, outreach, research, knowledge, workforce, and physical space.
The plan was developed in consultation with the Black Students’ Network (BSN), the Dr. Kenneth Melville McGill Black Faculty Caucus, the McGill Black Alumni Association, and the Subcommittee on Racialized and Ethnic Persons.
McGill hopes to increase its percentage of Black students by expanding student aid opportunities and investing in faculty-level initiatives, such as exploring collaborations with other post-secondary institutions in Caribbean and African countries. Additionally, the university intends to implement staff training on how to support a diverse community and understand systemic racism.
Notably, the plan states that the James McGill statue will not be removed despite popular demand, but rather fitted with a plaque that describes McGill’s involvement in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and his ownership of enslaved people. The possibility of moving the statue, however, will be assessed.
Heleena De Oliveira, BSN President and a U3 Arts student, views the plan as a good foundation for McGill to build a more equitable future.
“The plan is a good start, but there is always room for further improvement,” De Oliveira said in an interview with the Tribune. “We are committed to making sure that this plan encapsulates the specific needs and demands of Black folk in our university. We are dedicated to not only seeing an improvement of the plan, but also realizing its implementation. More than anything, we want to make sure that the [promises] the administration commits itself to doing are carried out in full and not left unattended.”
The plan has commissioned the development of a new public report which will be published in the winter of 2022 to explore the university’s historical connections to colonialism and recommend further measures to address systemic racism. McGill will also establish a fellowship to welcome Black scholars dedicated to researching Black life in history. The possible expansion of the African and Black Studies department will be reviewed.
Alexandre Vachon, B.A. ‘19, is an activist who expressed his disappointment in McGill’s failure to establish a robust Black Canadian studies department.
“Canadian academic institutions, to this day, are not able to acknowledge Black Canadian history, which comprises, of course, slavery [and] colonialism, but also includes Black Canadian academia,” Vachon said. “McGill was unable to promise the institutionalizing of a Black Canadian Studies department because it insinuates that Black Canadian Studies need to be developed before creating a Black Canadian Studies department [….] McGill is entirely blind to the 400-year-old presence of Black Canadian thought, of Black Canadian academics, and Black Canadians.”
Currently, Black employees only represent 3.4 per cent of McGill’s staff and 0.8 per cent of its permanent academic staff. The university has discussed plans to enhance its recruitment initiatives to improve representation to five per cent by 2025, and 6.8 per cent by 2032.
Dr. Manuel Balán, a professor and director of the Institute for the Study of International Development (ISID), explained how the ISID would use the plan’s recommendations to confront anti-Black racism within the department.
“From our end, we will work to identify how ISID may best contribute to the realization of the plan,” Balán said. “We have a large and diverse student body, and we are committed as a unit to promote and support efforts to better address racism, and particularly anti-Black racism.”
A previous version of this article stated that Heleena De Oliveira is the BSN’s Project Manager of Advocacy. In fact, she is the President of BSN. The Tribune regrets this error.